Interview: Headmade CEO Christian Staudigel lifts the lid on Cold Metal Fusion 3D printing 

Since raising €1.9 million in funding via venture capitalist firm btov Partners in July 2020, German 3D printing bureau Headmade has raised eyebrows across the additive manufacturing industry. 

In particular, the company’s Cold Metal Fusion (CMF) 3D printing technology raises a lot of questions. Headmade is encouraging customers to reassess the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) production method via a new set of system parameters and a polymer-infused powder. So what exactly is CMF? and what is Headmade trying to achieve with its new take on SLS? 

Here to answer all these questions is Headmade Co-founder and CEO Christian Staudigel. Speaking to 3D Printing Industry, Staudigel explained the potential of CMF, and elaborated on the firm’s broader goals and objectives. 

“Our sinter-based Cold Metal Fusion technology has been developed for the serial production of up to 100,000 metal parts per year, all by using an existing ecosystem of machines and processes,” said Staudigel. “This allows customers to scale from a very capital-efficient entry point, all the way to a very high production output.”

“We have ambitions to play a key-role in the reinvention of the manufacturing market.” 

Headmade has raised €1.9 million in funding in order to build on its CMF 3D printing technology. Image via Headmade.
Headmade has raised €1.9 million in funding in order to build on its CMF 3D printing technology. Photo via Headmade.

Investment and innovation at Headmade

Headmade was established in Wuerzburg, Germany, in 2019 after being spun off from the local polymer research institute Das Kunststoff-Zentrum (SKZ). Staudigel began developing the technology behind CMF five years ago, while working alongside fellow co-founder Christian Fischer at SKZ. 

Captured by the idea that a more efficient form of serial 3D printing was possible, the pair set about designing a process that would make additive manufacturing cheaper and more accessible than before. The result of their hard work and innovation was CMF 3D printing, a method which broadly combines metal sintering with SLS in a novel manufacturing technique. 

Now having raised €1.9 million of investment, the start-up is stepping away from SKZ to establish its own facility and become fully independent. Leveraging the additional funding, the pair intend to “scale-up” their technology, by developing the firm’s customer and marketing services into a broader network. With further funding rounds in the future, Staudigel believes that Headmade could expand further into a number of new markets and territories. 

“We have been working on the technology for five years and the partnership with btov Partners now gives us the opportunity to accelerate the company’s development, and realize our vision of 3D series production,” said Staudigel. “But the partnership with btov Partners is just the first step, and we expect to raise additional funds in 2021 to market our technology and products in the most important markets.”

Headmade plans to use its recent €1.9 million investment to drive the wider adoption of its CMF 3D printing process. Image via Headmade.
Headmade plans to use the recent €1.9 million investment from btov Partners to drive the wider adoption of its CMF 3D printing process. Photo via Headmade.

Cold Metal Fusion 3D printing technology 

The main difference between Headmade’s CMF technology and conventional SLS manufacturing is the company’s proprietary 3D printing material. Headmade’s metal powder feedstock is integrated with a plastic binder matrix that improves its flowability, and increases the number of machines that it’s compatible with. 

The overall four-step CMF process begins with upscaling the CAD file of a target object, a step that is required to account for the shrinkage caused by the resin’s plastic binder. In a similar approach to SLS 3D printing, the part is then produced in a layer-by-layer fashion, but at a temperature below 80oC. Operating at a lower temperature minimizes heating and cooling times significantly, and prevents the need for external cooling devices. 

“Despite the powder composition and adjusted processing parameters, it is no different to operating an ordinary SLS 3D printer for the users.”

“Lower temperatures offer advantages such as energy and time savings, as well as reduced wear and lower requirements to the SLS system regarding components and isolation,” said Staudigel. “So we designed our feedstock for low-temperature SLS processing, but of course we still bring temperature into our process in the later sintering steps.”

Following the initial printing phase, fabricated parts are then de-caked, post-processed, debinded, and sintered. The plastic binder contained within Headmade’s proprietary powder resin is used only as a support structure, and makes no difference to the makeup of the final component. As a result, the polymer is completely melted away during printing, leaving parts that are reportedly comparable to those produced using injection molding. 

Supporting customers with existing 3D printers

Switching to CMF doesn’t require users to introduce any additional build plates or support structures, meaning that the process can be applied within any SLS machine. As a result, the firm’s support service is targeted at clients seeking to save money by upgrading rather than replacing their existing 3D printers. 

“Since the core of the process lies on our Headmade feedstock the aim is to empower our costumers to produce their parts themselves,” said Staudigel. “We have the Know-How as well as the process chain to support them in construction, processing, and also producing test parts and small series manufacturing.”

With the main difference between ordinary SLS production and CMF being Headmade’s binder-infused resin, the firm currently provides a support service rather than a manufacturing one. According to Staudigel, Headmade is prepared to work with a range of  industry partners in future, in order to provide the fullest suite of solutions possible for its clients.

“If an in-house production is not what our customers desire, we can come broaden our network,” concluded Staudigel, “Then we can connect them to service providers to establish a supply chain for their specific needs.” 

Ongoing research into optimizing SLS 3D printing 

A number of researchers and additive manufacturing companies have taken their own approach to optimizing SLS printing in recent years. Although the core layer-by-layer principles of SLS have often been maintained within experimental systems, they have also featured enhanced material compatibility and a range of additional functions. 

Researchers from Columbia University’s School of Engineering have demonstrated a novel SLS printing process that allows multiple powders to be sintered within the same print run. By inverting the laser inside an SLS system so that it points upwards, the team was able to create prototypes containing two different polymers within the same layer. 

3D printer manufacturer Aerosint has introduced a multi-powder SLS printing alternative named ‘Selective Powder Deposition.’ Consisting of a powder dispenser and patterning drums, the company’s method selectively deposits fine powder to make multi-metal 3D printed parts.

German 3D printer OEM EOS has developed its patented EOSTATE in-process monitoring suite using years of data, to enable irregularities to be identified during the SLS printing process. Leveraging an integrated camera, users can quickly identify incomplete layers and stop the process to rectify any issues.

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Featured image shows the Headmade logo that has been 3D printed onto a part using its CMF technology. Photo via Headmade.